I am a hot mess. I have always been a hot mess. I am imperfect, impatient, and impetuous. I am passionate, impulsive and rash. I start every day with adrenalin surging like a tidal wave through my body. I love to perform and yet I struggle with anxiety, and panic. I tend to pull away and inside myself when I am overwhelmed. And I am often overwhelmed. I find during these times that it is a struggle to even leave my home on hard days. When people see me, they see my smile, hear my laughter, see my candor and willingness to be openly foolish, and perceive a confidence I am challenged to bring forth. I have lived like this for as long as I can remember. I begin each day with the firm belief I can manage my path, and I assure myself that I can do more, even though many days the best that I can manage is slow breaths and steadying thoughts. I am not ashamed to share my struggle. I believe in reaching out, reaching down, and reaching back to help myself, and to help others who also struggle under the weight of burdens that lie hidden from view. So adept are we at concealing our challenges, our personal pain, maybe wanting so much to be free of it that we would rather hide it from the world than to let the world see us as we truly are: Gloriously human. Deeply and wonderfully flawed. Change within is not gifted, it is won. It is fought for and worked for. We are constant works in progress. Fluid. Plasticine. Able to adapt and overcome. We are each amazing. Over the years I have come to embrace myself with compassion. Some days I soar, and some days I put one foot in front of the other with great determination. I am human, and I am blessed to be so beautifully and wonderfully flawed.
The end of the world. If you think it’s not happening, let me assure you that it happens more than you know. This may sound contradictory, you’re thinking “happening more than I know? Can’t it only happen ONCE? As in, the END?” Nope. Trust me, babe, what you are about to read will resonate deeply with you, let you know that you are not alone in the race to survive. Perhaps even pull you out of the desperate funk that the long winter months of diminished light, grey landscaping, and equally grey skies have wrought. All that damnable grey….making it almost impossible to see where the drab land ends, as it blends unremarkably into the equally drab sky. I’m a fan of the color grey, and even brown. I love black and white photos, pictures filtered in sepia… but ONLY those colors? Ugh. I am a VERY sunny dispositioned, and up beat kind of gal, but by mid February I am bleary eyed, pale faced (which is unnatural for a Lebanese girl), cranky despite my daily exercise. I am dangerously likely to murder someone for a slice of sunshine as it briefly appears and cuts through a window, warming and illuminating a single spot on the floor, if that person is standing there blocking my access, refusing to yield their position in their equally desperate state. Yes. you read that correctly. MURDER. My favorite expression and grouping has become “a MURDER of crows”, the scientific term for a number of that particular bird.
Isn’t it wonderful? MURDER… and I grin wickedly and darkly whenever I see a MURDER of crows, imagining joining their feathery and homicidal flock should the days refuse to move me more rapidly closer to spring and summer. I sit in long meetings, my irritability rising like gorge in my throat, a knee bobbing restlessly under the table, a keenly sharpened pencil grasped in my shakey hand, trying desperately not to give in to the urge to leap across the table and stab an aimless over-talker who has used a full third of the allotted time to prattle on sociably, into SILENCE. I know you feel the same way, don’t lie. We’ve all screamed things in our heads at moments like that. We’ve committed heinous acts of vengeance in our mind. We’ve all asked ourselves if the jail time is worth it, and by March…it IS. How does anyone manage to survive? I like playing in snow as much as the next idiot, but a couple of weeks of it is all I require. Just enough to see me through Christmas. But endless months of blah and muck of a barren wilderness? BRING ME SPRING OR BRING ME DEATH! No. Not death, not really. Maybe bacon and chocolate and liquor. And in vast quantities. I tend to have a flare for the dramatic and exaggerate at times. A shocking self-revelation that none of you suspected about me. You get my point. I’m so DONE with this season and I have exhausted my tool kit of distractions. My shoes are damp, my toes are pruny and cold, and my heart is shrinking like my husbands favorite cotton t-shirt in the hot cycle that I accidentally ran it through. The favorite one he bought at the concert he went to with our oldest sons over Christmas but he doesn’t know about yet because I know how to hide things in a cluttered house. Unfortunately he is quite literate and once this article is out, so is my dirty little secret. Another world ending scenario right there folks. Of course, if you’ve read my article on how to successfully present bad news to a man, you will have an idea as to what two “tools” I’ll whip out to break the bad news.
Clearly a guide to surviving this desperate situation, and other end of the world disasters is critical. In fact, it is a necessity. It SHOULD be an essential information packet included in everyone’s “Welcome to being alive!” introductory package! It’s not, for the record. In fact I am fairly certain that no package even exists, not even a brochure to help you navigate life, and of course, the end of the world which happens approximately 17.3 times per person during the first 18 years of your life. Pimples explode over night in your youth, cleaving you from the cool lunch table, banishing you to the wobbly chaired table of shame where other kids sit, sweatshirts tied around their waists to hide unfortunately placed stains, or bedazzled pockets aunt Ginny just KNEW would look good on you. Whatever ended the world on that particular day, oaths were sworn over slightly warm containers of cafeteria milk to never return, NEVER, because the world as you knew it had ended.
Yet, the next day there you were, pockmarked and cranky, but alive. Everyone else seemed to survive the trial and tribulation and the humiliation too. 17.3 times per person by the age of 18. The numbers are there folks, the science is sound. Trust me. That number escalates quickly over the decades as people head off into the “real world”, begin searching for a purpose, a partner, and *gasp* raising children, aging bodies, and figuring out what you want to be when you grow up AGAIN. Yeah, grow up again. No one bothered to tell you that you were going to have to answer that question several more times as the years pass. Last but not least, trying to figure out a way to finance….well…EVERYTHING. Now you should not need to purchase a partner, in fact I will go so far as to say do NOT purchase a partner. It’s just wrong and yucky and not cool on so many other blog levels that I just do not have time to go into it here but I promise we will circle back to that topic (Partners: a smart purchase or a gimmick?) in another piece and at a later date. Hand to heart. It will happen. For now, we brace ourselves, we stare into the darkness of the night and mutely raise our fists with middle fingers extended because somewhere out there is the jackass who set us all here with no guidebook, no GPS, no essentials kit. Just set our naked asses down on the planet and hoped for the best. Well, I won’t be beaten so easily. I’ll make it to Spring and I’ll have the last laugh. I’ve made it to 45 Springs so far, I feel confident in my track record that I’ll make it to 46, so this howling wind and rain and cold out there tonight, enjoy your little reign of wretchedness, your time is numbered and I have a garden I want to start planting, and an ocean I need to stick my feet in. I’m coming for you. I will survive!
Next week is my birthday. I’m not really big on parties for me, LOVE them for OTHERS, crawl out of my skin if it’s for ME. My family knows this, or at least they should have a pretty good idea. After a couple of decades together, you hopefully start to get a feel for each other, the lines you can cross, and the ones that will get you shot. Things like “mom is allowed to tickle anyone in the house, but if you try to tickle mom, then people will bleed”. It’s not that I intended for these seemingly unfair rules to come into being. I honestly don’t like the double standard, it simply is the way it is. Venture forth at your own risk. Mom can also surprise anyone. But if anyone attempts to sneak up on mom,to scare her, it’s going to be a very dark, dark world that person inhabits for the foreseeable future.
In my wayward and oft misguided youth, where resilience and stupidity lent themselves handily to a willingness to sleep just about anywhere and be able to jump pain free to my feet at dawn and spring forth into a bright new day. I didn’t mind camping, in fact it was kind of fun. When I graduated from Boston College I spent six weeks with a friend driving and camping across the northern United States. I spent many nights putting up a tent in pouring rain, sleeping in a puddle, only to start another 8 hour drive the next day. I had no complaints most of the time. It’s true that I did try to kill my companion on a number of occasions but that’s really the fault of my companion who didn’t appreciate the merits of stopping to ask for directions, choosing instead to drive until it was dark and we were lost. Suffice it to say we made it to San Francisco alive and ready to go our separate ways. If you need to find out whether a relationship has staying power, I highly recommend containing yourself to a small vehicle, conversation limited to each other, no workable radio, and spending hours on end arguing over maps, setting up tents in the rain, and glaring at each other over fistful’s of stale granola. Since those years my husband and sons who love to camp, (they’re Boy Scouts and Boy Scouts are crazy. Like, camp in snow and sleep with your boots shoved at the bottom of your bag so they won’t freeze like everything else kind of crazy. Throw axes at targets over an icy expanse, thump your chest and howl at the moon crazy. ) have never failed to extend an invitation for me to join them. I have always declined, preferring the softness and warmth of my bed, indoor plumbing, and heat pouring through the baseboards of our ancient house. Nope. I do not like to camp anymore. Definitely not in frigid temps, and definitely not on in a sac on the ground. Don’t try to tell me how great the fresh air is, that’s why God created Windows that open. My body is simply not shaped like the ground,my spirit not hardy enough for pioneer loving, my tolerance for discomfort diminished with each coming year….
My endurance and willingness to suffer such indignities passed somewhere during the childbearing and child rearing years where I seemed to sleep exclusively and uncomfortably propped up in chairs while an adorable but parasitical infant slept dangling by sheer mouth suction from a sore, leaky breast that never seemed to get put away, so frequent were the feelings. I would stare darkly and mutely at my sleeping husband, cursing nature for providing men with useless breasts. One small genetic mutation was all that stood between me and a good nights rest. Please understand, I CHOSE to breastfeed my children and would do it all over again. I was always weening one baby halfway through being pregnant with another baby. I think it’s fair to say that after 5 babies and ten years of sleep deprived nursing, I am entitled to pull back the rosy veil and bitch a bit.
Now over the years there have been the usual hits and misses to be expected in the gift giving department. That’s understandable and even forgivable. Except for the year hubby funded the children’s eager desire to purchase me lurid, highly perfumed, giant, fuzzy, pink dice, meant to dangle with class from my rear view mirror damn him. No matter how many times I stuffed them under the drivers seat, in a glovebox, or in the mysterious space between the back row of seats and the side wall by the floor, those determined and clever children always found them, exclaiming happily “Look mamma! They aren’t lost! We found them! Again!”. Damn that man.. The truth is, you actually spend your whole lives getting to know the people you love, so constantly evolving is each heart. However, there are certain unchangeable parts of our nature, and if you love someone, I mean really love someone you do well to make note of these things. Small example: don’t ever (and I mean EVER) touch a girls bangs. Don’t “adjust” the front of her hair, however out of place it may appear I ASSURE you, each strand has been carefully and deliberately placed. You touch, you DIE. Also, please don’t think the day will come when you can run your fingers silkily through my naturally curly hair. You can’t. It is a tangled web of knotted hell, and pulling your fingers though it feels like having each piece removed forcefully. It’s not romantic. It’s not even NICE. No touchy.
As my birthday approaches, suggestions are sought. I helpfully fill the Amazon wish list with things that delight me. You just can’t get a gentler or slower pitch over home plate than that. I tell you all of this because this morning I received the following text from my husband as he lobbed out potential gift ideas for me. It read :
“I still want to do something special for your birthday! What if I had a friend with a VW (with camper) and two zip-together Zero degree sleeping bags???”
He wasn’t joking. He was sincere. Misguided and yet sincere. Had he not seen my lists? How long has this man been married to me? Did he just wake up one morning and FORGET who he was lying next to? I responded with my dumbfounded ire:
“And what, in our entire history together, the full body of knowledge you posses of me , has lead you to the conclusion that in the middle of one of the coldest months of the year, on the heels of a massive flare up of fibromyalgia, and with my ardent and emphatic diatribes on the need for a soft bed at night and indoor plumbing, and firm belief camping of any sort is not even permitted by the Geneva convention, causes you to think THIS would be the way I would like to spend my 46th birthday?????”
I am in a reflective mood as I sit here typing, curled in thick blankets, propped up on half a dozen over sized pillows, brightly lit room, heat spilling out from all directions as the dark, night sky views me as it should: through double paned windows and insulated curtains. Next week is my birthday. I’ll be 46 and I’ll be surrounded by people I love. I hope for everyone’s sake, it is indoors, but if I have to be completely honest, as long as I’m with them, I don’t care where we are. I’ll even endure camping if means we are together.
There are many thieves of time. There is the “swallow you whole” busyness of day to day life that finds you breathless and slightly discombobulated at the end of the day. You think to yourself “how is it THIS time already? Where did the day go?”. There are the milestones that surprise us, so mired in the minutia of the many steps to achieve them that we suddenly find ourselves face to face with the moment and asking the universe if we are sure we should be here already? It all goes so fast.
Then there is the fickleness of the human body, succumbing to something that diverts our plans entirely, railroading you into plan B, C, or any number of other “not plan A’s”. These moments are frustrating. They grab you by the shoulders mid dash and set you down on the bench. You’re not going anywhere for a while. I am not a patient woman by nature. I am passionate, irreverent, prone to living my life at speeds that cause my friends and colleagues to shake their heads and attempt caffeine-free interventions, so certain are they that I’ll likely put out an eye at the pace I keep.
I have a dubious relationship with my body. I have written before of the precarious balance of love and loathing I have for both its amazing capacity for strength, and its antagonizing predilection for failing me when I just don’t have the TIME. I have stymied the experts in several fields as to just why my body does the things it does. One of my sister in laws encouragingly suggested to me after countless neurologists, rheumatologists, endocrinologists, and many other “ologists” after repeated and often unpleasant tests and treatments that yielded little relief and even less insight to say “Cheer up, maybe they’ll name this after YOU!” *for the record, after glaring at her darkly, I decided she was an ally I could not do without, forgave her such cheekiness, and still talk to her to this day.
This decade long dance has landed me with the diagnosis my initial Doctor informed me would be my fate, should the medical community fail to figure me out: Fibromyalgia. I resisted it strongly when my lovely, patient and brilliant rheumatologist at Tufts gently explained it was in fact, a real diagnosis despite the body of people who insist it’s a made up malady, one that your are coined with when all else fails. A nice general “everything hurts but we can’t figure out why” label. I was pretty sure that despite all of her well documented education and experience, and the team of doctors equally impressive around her, that it was all hooey. However, it is not. It is real. The Mayo clinic defines it as:
Fibromyalgia; a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.
I define it as a thief of time. I’m a busy girl. I don’t sit still, in fact if I sit at all at work, I sit on an exercise ball! Then yesterday..Ugh. I woke up to a massive flare up of fibromyalgia, my feet won’t work and are painful, my hands are swollen and useless, my whole body hurts and the fatigue is at a 9 along with the pain. I’ve given in and slept but really need to move to work through this pain. Yoga usually is my go to, but my balance is non existent because of my feet. I’m still in bed because of this and it’s day two! DAY TWO! I don’t have time for this. I have a job, kids, a race coming up, a half marathon I’m training for. I have things to do, people! I left out the disaster area of my house that needs cleaning, also at this rate it looks like it will be Christmas here on our funny farm for a few weeks longer. I haven’t slept like this since, well, the last time. *sigh. A thief of time…
And yet. And YET. My minions have poured in to make dinners, lunches, tidy, feed animals, drive siblings where they need to go. My family and friends have made me laugh and feel loved over texts, knowing that talking is tiring when pain levels are high. I look through my bedroom window at the slice of winter sky visible and while I long to be out on a nice long run, today is not that day. But tomorrow…tomorrow is another day closer, and another story entirely.
She was falling. From such sunlight filled heights above the tree line she gazed at her beloved before her perch gave way beneath her feet, all panic, no warning, no time to cry out, down rapidly she felt herself falling. He was gone. Gone in that moment from her eyes, her ears, her touch with out any warning.Branches whipped her bared heart, leaving cuts and welts, stinging reminders of promises and pledges, whispered oaths, sweet lies she believed because it was truth to her, passing through helplessly, plummeting wildly towards the earth. She welcomed its impact, if only to feel an end to her sorrowing, but the earth reached up and grabbed her close and held her as she wept. She lay there, numb, mute, all thought quieted. She felt unfocused and lost, her aching heart the only reminder of everything lost in the fall.
The room was dark and quiet, the early morning wintery light still a distant thought. She crawled under the covers against me, wrapped her arms around my neck and whispered softy “mamma, are you sleeping? Will you help me braid my hair?”. My heart filled with warmth and a smile spread through me. This girl child of mine, my baby, the youngest of my pride of five, and most fiercely independent was asking for help with her hair….Four big, strapping sons blessed my life before La-Lu made her surprise appearance. I was certain this lovely doll and I would play together for hours. I pictured fancy tea parties, frothy dresses, putting her hair into delightfully girly dos, bows, tiaras…the works. La-Lu had her own ideas and plans, and she had her own definition of what girly meant to her. She would be my teacher and my guide along this path. I learned when she was 5, small, fiery, energetic, determined and unafraid of the world, that I was not allowed to help with anything. She educated me stridently on this point when ever I saw her struggling to do something and offered assistance. She would scrunch up her brows in concentration, focused on the task she had selected and meticulously set to figuring out how to solve or to create or to destroy something on her own. She chose her own wardrobe. If I so much as smiled at an outfit, it was gone. She did her own hair. If I tried to smooth the hard to reach part at the very back of her head, she would react as though I had tried to set fire to her body. It was futile to fight it; this child had a mind of her own. A wonderful, brilliant, strong willed mind of her own. I have no doubt she will rule the world given half the chance, and the inkling to do so. This delighted me. As soon as I made my peace with the fact that my children would be the captains of their own souls, I began to delight in earnest in each child as they unfurled before me. Yet, there are little moments when their guard has dropped, when the small, sweet babe from their earliest days peeks out from beneath the brooding eyes of their teenaged self and they stretch out their hand for mine. “Can you help me?” she asks. I pull my fingers through her long silky hair, fragrant from shampoo, as she chatters about this friend and that class, about what she hopes for, and what she has planned this day. I weave her hair in simple plaits, tying them behind her ears with small bands. She surveys my handiwork and kisses me and runs off, earbuds reengaged, singing along to a song I can’t hear, and out into the world. My answer will always be yes.
There are deep and wild parts of me
fathomless miles of me
strange acres inside of me
the uncharted space of my heart.
The mysterious ways of me
weave streams towards the sea through me
carving your name in me
pulling my pieces apart.
There are prisms of light in me
writing hymns on your lips of me
in soft, breeze less nights of me
the beauty is almost too much.
Breath through my body
breathes passion that flys through me
the agonized cries of me
and burns everything with its touch.
Atoms collide in me
crashing inside of me
spilling outside of me
truth in the kindness of lies.
The fierce, fearless side of me
the reasonless whys of me
racing inside of me
all stilled by the look in your eyes.